Uniting Women to Create a Brighter Future

Last night United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council hosted Celebrate to Elevate, our annual event that brings us together to experience what it truly means to be a part of this incredible group. And it was filled to the brim with excitement and energy.  

We learned first-hand how United Way’s work benefits women and children, participating in hands-on activities like packing period products to help girls stay in school and women to show up to work with dignity, the Tough Choices simulation where we strategized how to run a household on an extremely tight budget and the Outcomes in Action activity where we sharpened our knowledge and uncovered the work that United Way does to help women and children in our region.  

We had the opportunity to network, indulge in food stations, bid on raffle baskets, record video testimonials, laugh in the photo booth and genuinely enjoy each other’s company.  

And that exciting announcement: thanks to your participation in our recent member survey, we heard you. You told us that you deeply value the connection, the networking and the sisterhood. And that you want us to be as welcoming as possible. You told us that we must be a big tent, open to women across all dimensions of diversity, from age, gender expression, race, ability, and stage in career and life. You want us to be crystal clear that we are working with United Way to support women and children. You told us that this group unites women—wherever they may be in life—to connect, find their passion and make an impact. We deserve a name that fully captures that impact.   (…)

Posted by admin on April 12, 2024

Unlock Your Earned Refund: How United Way’s Free Tax Prep Program Puts Money Back into Your Pocket

As Director of Moving to Financial Stability at United Way, Alena Anderson invests in partner agencies that help people earn a living wage and develop the tools they need to build wealth and fulfill their full potential. As a single mother, she understands the work that goes into making ends meet. Here she talks about United Way’s Free Tax Prep program, which helps households earning $65,000 or less maximize their refunds, and how she hopes families will use the program to keep what they’ve earned.   


Q: Can you tell us about your experience navigating the financial challenges of being a working mom while also raising two daughters? 

A: Oh, absolutely! Being a mom to two teenage girls definitely comes with its own set of hurdles, especially when it comes to managing the ever-changing needs (and expenses) of each season. From back-to-school supplies in the fall to the scramble for affordable summer activities, it seems like there’s always something demanding attention and money. And let’s not forget the stress of tax season on top of it all!  

Q: How did you handle the stress of tax season while raising your daughters? 

A: Tax season was always a particularly stressful time for me as a working mom. Filing taxes can be a headache, and when you’re anxiously awaiting a refund that might not be as much as you hoped, it adds an extra layer of worry. Plus, paying for tax preparation services can be costly. I remember feeling stuck, trying to find quick refunds to cover my family’s immediate needs while grappling with those extremely high fees.  


Posted by Alena Anderson on March 19, 2024

Honoring the legacy of Jim Roddey

Jim Roddey, our region’s first county executive, was a friend to many, including United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and he will be greatly missed. Jim chaired our 1988 campaign, which raised $34.3 million for the community. He also served as board chair from 1990 to 1992. Jim was a legendary and thoughtful advocate whose dedication to service and civility made him a bridgebuilder. Nobody could tell a joke quite like Jim, whose humor broke down barriers and brought people together. We honor Jim’s legacy of public service and philanthropy and remain inspired by his dedication to community. United Way joins with voices across our region in honoring Jim Roddey’s ability to bring people together for the betterment of the entire community.

To read more about Jim, click here.

Posted by Bobbi Watt Geer on March 8, 2024

Bridging the SNAP Gap: addressing essential needs beyond food

Food insecurity has been and remains a serious issue across the nation. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), initiated in 1933, stands as a critical federal program designed to support low- and no-income individuals and families in accessing essential food items. Currently, 2 million Pennsylvanians benefit from SNAP food assistance.

Yet, while SNAP benefits have been a lifeline for so many, it’s important to recognize that not all essential items that families need are covered. At United Way, we call this the “SNAP gap” — the shortfall that occurs when essentials that people need aren’t SNAP-eligible.

“Many people are surprised to learn that SNAP benefits, while critically important to healthy nutrition, do not apply to essential personal items that allow people to show up with dignity and confidence,” said Sally Ellwein, director of Meeting Basic Needs at United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. SNAP Gap items include shampoo, household and cleaning supplies, medicine and even period products.

Overcoming this gap is a challenge for many families in southwestern Pennsylvania, impacting their overall well-being and their budgets.


Posted by akougher on February 20, 2024

PA 211 Southwest: A lifeline for our neighbors in need.

By Bobbi Watt Geer, Ph.D. 

Raymond is a veteran and a senior citizen. He’s also legally blind. About once a week a neighbor stops by to read him his mail. They are stunned to learn that one of the unopened letters is a shut-off notice from the electric company. Kenneth was evicted from his home a month ago. He is homeless for the first time and has no idea what to do. Andrea was recently hospitalized for a hip replacement. Her husband won’t let her move back home after the surgery, so she’s been living in her car in the hospital parking lot for three weeks.

Each of their situations is unique, but thankfully they are not alone. Raymond, Kenneth and Andrea* are among 1.3 million people who reached out to PA 211 last year. The PA 211 call center network spanning the commonwealth provides a safety net that anyone in Pennsylvania can turn to for assistance. Requests come in by phone, text, chat or through the PA211.org website. Contacts are answered by a trained Resource Navigator, a real person who has a database of 80,000 human services resources at their fingertips. The service is free and confidential. 

Regionally, PA 211 Southwest, which launched in 2011 and is operated by United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, now serves Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties.  

211 Resource Navigator on phoneEvery contact starts with a human connection. The Resource Navigator asks each caller their name, where they live and how they can help. Often, a call about not having enough money for rent turns into a much larger conversation. Does the caller have enough to eat? Are they able to pay their utility bills? How is their health, and do they need referrals to clinics in their community? More recently, in recognition that internet access has become a necessity for everything ranging from school to work to telehealth, Resource Navigators ask if callers need help accessing low-cost internet, computers or other devices, and basic technical assistance to get and stay online.  (…)

Posted by Bobbi Watt Geer on February 12, 2024

Our commitment to ending housing insecurity.

By Bobbi Watt Geer, Ph.D. 

Homelessness is on the rise nationally and regionally and is particularly visible in downtown Pittsburgh. We at United Way want to make sure our donors and partners know that, from 2023 to 2026, United Way is investing at least $1 million annually in eviction prevention and housing insecurity.

The people behind the numbers: Housing is the most basic of human needs. Increased visibility of people who are unhoused has led to an influx of news stories focused on public safety. What these stories may miss is that rising homelessness is tied directly to increased housing costs. Far too many of our neighbors are one car repair, one job loss or one illness away from being unable to afford their rent or mortgage. (…)

Posted by Bobbi Watt Geer on February 8, 2024

A need for diversity and inclusion: Learnings from our WLC member survey

By Dr. Kathy Humphrey and Maris Dauer, Women’s Leadership Council Co-Chairs


United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) is one of a kind. This dedicated and unique patchwork of dynamic women has created quite an impact in its 22-year history. However, to continue our work and growth, we know that the WLC must be inclusive for all and as diverse as our region in terms of race, ability and stage in work and life. Data about our community and our membership helps inform United Way’s work.

We know, for example, from our ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) data—the metric that United Ways in 26 states use to track how working people are faring—that a family of four needs to earn at least $6,202 in Allegheny County, significantly more than the poverty level of $2,500 a month to afford housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and basic technology. ALICE reveals that women and girls – particularly single mothers and BIPOC women – are among the most vulnerable in our region. This is further demonstrated by the sobering fact that 75% of last year’s PA 211 Southwest helpline contacts came from women.

We realized we wanted to understand the diversity of our membership and have input from varying viewpoints to make sure United Way and donor groups like WLC are delivering what affected communities need most.

With leadership from WLC Executive Committee members Steffanie Jasper and Regina Scott, a WLC DEI committee was established. Steffanie and Regina, who serve as DEI Committee co-chairs, have been instrumental in guiding us to focus on becoming more relevant and welcoming across all dimensions of diversity, including race, ability, age and gender. Recommendations from Steffanie, Regina and the DEI committee have included hosting WLC events in diverse communities, highlighting the stories of women of all ages, races, gender identities and abilities in our marketing and storytelling, and being more intentional in our efforts to welcome women from all backgrounds to join and remain engaged.


Posted by Kathy Humphrey & Maris Dauer on January 11, 2024

Teaming Up to Make a Difference: United Way’s Inaugural Giveback Games

In November, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Bridges Society and Next Gen Ambassadors gathered at Acruisure Stadium for the inaugural Giveback Games. Forty teams of young professionals came together for an evening of networking, friendly competition and a chance to learn more about United Way’s work throughout the region.  

And for those new to United Way, the evening was an opportunity to learn more about the Bridges Society and Next Generation donor groups. Bridges Society is a network of mid-career professionals and volunteers who donate $1,000 or more annually. Next Generation are 35 and under who demonstrate their commitment with their time and financial support that fits their budget. 

Emily Nally, Next Gen Ambassador and assistant athletic director at the University of Pittsburgh, gives us a look at the event and shares why she’s passionate about her contributions to United Way. 


Posted by akougher on December 11, 2023

How Giving Tuesday makes a difference

By Bobbi Watt Geer, Ph.D. 

Giving Tuesday brings the community of individuals, corporations and nonprofits together to make our region stronger and more connected. This day puts an important spotlight on creating a better community. United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania is an epicenter of generosity, focused on investment 365 days a year because community needs extend year-round and far beyond this one day. The needs are great.  

United Way’s ALICE data, which tracks what families need to earn to survive, shows that 39% of households in our five-county region are unable to earn enough to pay for basic needs, such as food, housing and utilities, transportation, child care, health care and basic technology. We’ve also seen calls and texts to United Way’s PA 211 Southwest help line more than double from 190,000 in 2019, pre-pandemic, to nearly 523,000 in 2022. The greatest needs are affordable housing, jobs and employment, and utility assistance—things that many of us take for granted. 

On Giving Tuesday, we ask individuals and families to give to our Impact Fund. The Impact Fund is the easiest and most efficient way to make sure that your donation goes to nonprofit agencies that are working to meet basic needs, move people to financial stability, and build skills for success in school and life. Our Community Investment team carefully researches the nonprofits in our region. We invest in their success by making three-year grants to our agency partners. This helps provide funding stability so that our partner agencies have breathing room to focus on their work.   (…)

Posted by Bobbi Watt Geer on November 28, 2023

Shining a light on the realities facing working families

Earlier this year, the Census Bureau released its 2022 American Community Survey data. As the Post-Gazette reported, the city of Pittsburgh’s overall poverty rate hovers at around 19%, which exceeds the national poverty rate of 12.6%. 

Though this data is alarming, it is, sadly, not surprising. United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania runs PA Southwest 211, a 24/7 help line that connects people in crisis to a broad array of services ranging from basic needs to internet access. Contacts have more than doubled from 2019, pre-pandemic, when we took 190,000 calls, texts and web self-service contacts, to 523,000 in 2022. Real-time data on our PA211Counts.org website shows that the top issues in our region are affordable housing, jobs and employment and utility assistance.  

While we hope this uptick in contacts is because more people know about 211, we know that the main reason for the increase is because people are unable to earn enough to support their families and they are reaching out for help. The federal poverty level does not fully measure the hardships facing those who are working, sometimes at more than one job, but barely surviving.   (…)

Posted by Bobbi Watt Geer & Alyssa Cholodofsky on November 9, 2023

Answering the call with United Way’s Digital Navigator Network

By Carol Palcic, Executive Director, YWCA of Westmoreland County

Nowadays, accessing the internet and knowing how to use it are basic needs necessary to keep up with daily life. Without access, skills and devices, people may find themselves stuck: unable to access telemedicine, online classes or apply for and keep jobs.

“Can you help me? I’m stuck.”

At YWCA of Westmoreland County, we work directly with individuals who need help accessing, understanding and using technology.

Our team is used to receiving “I’m stuck” calls because one of the most challenging issues facing individuals in Westmoreland County is the lack of digital access and literacy.

We’re doing everything we can to change that, but the barriers are real. (…)

Posted by Carol Palcic on October 12, 2023

Katie Sloan’s Viewpoint: The importance of raising your hand as a young professional

by Katie Sloan

Katie Sloan is a member of The Impact Cup’s winning team and a Highmark emplyee. First issued in Pittsburgh Business Times, read Katie’s thoughts below.

Stephanie Sciullo with the winning Impact Cup team

It’s not very often you get to engineer, collaborate and pitch ideas that can create real change in the community. So when United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania was seeking participants for a new project to do just that… it was almost impossible to not raise my hand.

I quickly learned that some of the greatest opportunities can come from raising your hand.

United Way of SWPA’s Bridges Society hosted The Impact Cup, an eight-week challenge that convened teams of young and mid-career professionals to create a project generating greater awareness around United Way’s PA 211 Southwest with a total budget of $50,000.


Posted by Katie Sloan on September 8, 2023